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Nairobi night markets offer solution to hawkers problem

By John Atambo | March 31st 2016

My heart always sinks with despair whenever I see the Nairobi County askaris engaging in running battles with street traders, more commonly known as hawkers.

Yet it is not possible to have orderly, clean and secure streets if the hawkers are allowed to roam freely in the central business district, and therefore, you cannot fault the askaris for doing their job.

In my capacity as the Nairobi County Executive for Youth, my job has been to work with Governor Evans Kidero to find a solution to the street hawkers' problem.

The Ignite Kenya Youth Night Market that launched last weekend is an example of how we can offer the traders an alternative, legitimate means of earning a living.

The fact is that street hawkers exist in large numbers because there is an equally huge demand for their wares.

Nairobians feel greatly inconvenienced when they have to walk in congested streets in the evenings when hawkers venture out into certain streets, yet they are the same ones who encourage them to keep coming back by offering a ready market for their goods.

The night markets, which will be open on select weekends every month, are expected to attract up to 300 traders who will not be charged any licence fee as part of a special waiver by the county government.

City Hall will also offer security, fire and ambulance services to the traders from 4pm up to midnight.

The night markets will offer the county government an opportunity to understand the needs of the hawkers, and the preferences of the city residents who buy their goods.

Over the years, it has become clear that trying to legislate or force the hawkers out of the streets cannot be 100 per cent effective.

The vendors will keep coming back, as long as the profit they take home every day exceeds the cost and the risk of being arrested.

Dr Kidero's administration has resisted taking an overly aggressive stance against the traders, who for all intents and purposes are just trying to earn an honest living.

To address the inconveniences and disorder that comes with the hawking, the county government has focused more on creating markets where the youth can conduct their business in peace and with minimal disruption.

During the four or so years of Kidero's administration, markets in Ngara, Dandora, Kariokor, Landies Road, Burma and Wakulima have been rehabilitated.

New phases of City Park and Karen markets are also being constructed to cater for the increased demand.

The overwhelming level of joblessness, however, means the spaces that we open up in these markets are taken up immediately, leaving out many more deserving applicants.

The potentially higher profits for street traders also keeps luring hawkers into the central business district, creating a never-ending problem.

Nairobi is not unique in this aspect. Street hawkers are a common phenomenon both in the developing and the advanced economies around the world.

What makes the difference, always, is the methods that different city authorities employ to handle the traders.

In New York, the Queens International Night Market is organised as a large, family-friendly open air market where vendors sell general merchandise, art and food and also features cultural performances and entertainment.

This is similar to what will be on offer at the Nairobi night markets, a joint initiative with the national government and Youth Agenda.

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